Energy and Global Warming News for June 19th: CO2 currently at highest level in 2.1 million years, Summer ‘dead zone’ could be largest on record, Are Macbooks the worlds greenest family of notebooks?

The news today is of special interest to me because I’m about to buy a MacBook….

CO2 currently at highest level in 2.1 million years

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Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are higher than any point in the last 2.1 million years, report researchers writing in the journal Science.

Analyzing the shells of single-celled plankton buried under the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, B¤rbel H¶nisch, a geochemist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and her colleagues dtermined that peak CO2 levels over the last 2.1 million years averaged only 280 parts per million. By comparison current CO2 levels stand at 385 parts per million, or 38% higher than the long-term peak.

Are ‘Green’ MacBook Ads Misleading?

As my colleague Joe Hutsko has previously written, consumers want, but remain skeptical about, eco-electronics.

Turns out they’re not alone.

Electronics manufacturer Dell recently took its competitor, Apple, to task for advertising that its Macbook line is “the world’s greenest family of notebooks””¦

The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus “” the advertising industry’s self-governing body whose job it is to review truthfulness and accuracy in marketing claims “” was brought in to determine the veracity of Apple’s assertions….

After hearing both sides, N.A.D. concluded that consumers “could reasonably take away the message that a ‘family’ of notebooks is a line of products and not all the products produced by a manufacturer.”

The N.A.D. therefore recommended that Apple modify its “world’s greenest family of notebooks” claim, “to make clearer that the basis of comparison is between all MacBooks to all notebooks made by a given competitor.” It also suggested that Apple “avoid the reference to ‘world’s greenest’ “” given the potential for overstatement.”

Apple’s spokesperson Steve Dowling said his company was pleased with the ruling.

“The N.A.D.’s ruling is a clear victory for Apple. The case challenged our claim to the ‘world’s greenest family of notebooks’ and N.A.D. has confirmed that MacBooks are in fact the world’s greenest notebook computers when compared to other manufacturers’ product lines as a whole,” Mr. Dowling wrote in an e-mail message.

Mr. Dowling also added that every Apple notebook meets the new Energy Star 5.0 specification out of the box and is made using mercury-free LED backlit displays and PVC-free components, seemingly as further proof of the company’s commitment to green efficiency.

Summer ‘dead zone’ could be largest on record — NOAA

The Gulf of Mexico’s oxygen-depleted “dead zone” could be one of the largest on record this year, a federal scientific team said today.

Seasonal oxygen levels could drop too low to support aquatic life in an area the size of New Jersey, according to the team supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scientists forecast the dead zone at between 7,350 and 8,456 square miles, with a strong chance of it growing larger, given the recent flooding of the Mississippi River. The largest dead zone on record was 8,484 square miles in 2002.

Plant-based jet fuel as good or better than petroleum — report

Plant-based jet fuels performed as well or better than petroleum-based fuel in tests conducted by a coalition of airlines and aircraft manufacturers.

Fuel blends from sustainable crops of jatropha, algae and camelina were used in ground and flight tests that showed biofuels were more efficient than typical jet fuels, according to the coalition’s report, which was released today.

All tested fuel blends, the report says, met or exceeded technical parameters for commercial flights, including freezing point, flash point, fuel density and viscosity. The biofuels had no adverse effect on aircraft engines.

NERC plans grid-security initiative

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. is planning a pilot initiative to determine whether Chinese spies have infiltrated the computer systems that run the electric grid.

The industry regulatory group is discussing the plan with a defense contractor to search through the grid for possible security breaches, according to people familiar with the initiative.

At the same time, NERC is launching a separate plan to test power companies’ ability to thwart cyber attacks. The power industry has turned its focus to computer-system security in response to increased public and congressional scrutiny.

Oberstar, Mica plan $500B, 6-year reauthorization

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wants $500 billion over the next six years for the nation’s roads, transit and high-speed rail, according to a blueprint of the bill that committee leadership hopes to pass before the current highway authorization expires at the end of September.

Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) was scheduled to outline the proposal this morning at a press conference, but the release was postponed until 2 p.m. today to accommodate a series of House votes.

But a copy of the 17-page proposal shows that Oberstar and ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.) are calling for a $337 billion investment in highway construction, $100 billion for public transit and $50 billion for President Obama’s vision of a nationwide high-speed rail system. The remaining $13 billion is for a variety of smaller initiatives.

Duke to build ‘clean energy park’ in Ohio

Duke Energy said today that it plans build a multibillion dollar “clean energy park” that could eventually house a nuclear plant at the federal government’s uranium enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio, about 80 miles east of Cincinnati.

Duke is part of the Southern Ohio Clean Energy Park Alliance, which includes French nuclear giant Areva, Baltimore-based UniStar Nuclear Energy and USEC Inc., which manages the 3,700-acre government site. The consortium has not finalized its site or design details, but estimates that the plant would create 1,400 to 1,800 initial jobs and potentially 400 to 700 permanent jobs (Mike Boyer, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 18)

A Move to Put the Union Label on Solar Power Plants

When a company called Ausra filed plans for a big solar power plant in California, it was deluged with demands from a union group that it study the effect on creatures like the short-nosed kangaroo rat and the ferruginous hawk.

By contrast, when a competitor, BrightSource Energy, filed plans for an even bigger solar plant that would affect the imperiled desert tortoise, the same union group, California Unions for Reliable Energy, raised no complaint. Instead, it urged regulators to approve the project as quickly as possible.

One big difference between the projects? Ausra had rejected demands that it use only union workers to build its solar farm, while BrightSource pledged to hire labor-friendly contractors.

Britain releases new climate change report

Britain’s soggy summers will become warmer and drier, and London could experience scorching heat waves by late this century, a government-backed report on climate change said Thursday.

The study outlines three scenarios for climate change, based on high, medium and low global levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report said the medium emissions scenario, to which the world is currently closest, would see summer temperatures in Britain rise by about 4 C (7.2 F) by 2080.

How aerosols mask climate change

A Norwegian scientist says he has shown how much aerosols influence climate.

Aerosol particles scatter and reflect the Sun’s rays — an effect that “masks” global warming.

This study aimed to bring together models and observations of this “direct aerosol effect”, to accurately estimate the magnitude of this cooling.

Reporting in the journal Science, climate scientist Gunnar Myhre has found that the effect is weaker than previous studies have estimated.

Water supplies at risk from fires in dead forests

Water supplies for 33 million people could be endangered if millions of acres of beetle-ravaged forests in the Rocky Mountains catch fire, a U.S. Forest Service official said Tuesday.

Rick Cables, the chief forester for the Rocky Mountain region, told a House panel that the headwaters of the Colorado River, an important water source for residents of 13 states, are in the middle of 2.5 million acres of dead or dying forests in Colorado and southern Wyoming. Severe fires, fueled by these trees, could damage or destroy reservoirs, pipes and other infrastructure that supply water to millions of people in the Rocky Mountain region.

Moreover, wildfires can “literally bake the soil,” leaving behind a water-repellent surface that sheds rain and leads to severe erosion and debris, he said. The loss of so many trees also will reduce shade in the region, which in turn could reduce water supplies in the hot, dry summer months and accelerate snowmelt in the spring, he said.